Friday, April 11, 2008

"There Will Be Blood"

Drama starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This story of how greed corrupts both business and religion, especially when business and religious leaders abandon their own humanity, is an excellent one that misses greatness only because of its contrived finale. What does achieve greatness, however, is Day Lewis’s performance as turn-of-the-20th-century oil baron Daniel Plainview, a performance that ranks among the best in movie history. In fact, I have to go all the way back to DeNiro as Jake LaMotta to find one to equal it (Day Lewis seems to go even further back. His inspiration here seems to be John Huston in “Chinatown.” And Anderson has said that his inspiration was “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which was directed by Huston.) Plainview is a dark character. He is mean when the movie opens and a maniac when it ends, and the film is the story of how his greed got him from Point A to Point B and sucked out the life of just about everyone he came in contact with. In a tour de force opening 15-minute segment without any dialogue, we see Plainview has a silver miner who is not going to let something like a shattered leg keep him from getting what we wants. He soon becomes an oilman, posing as a family man with his adopted son H.W. (Freasier) to con poor ranchers out of their oil rights. But in order to stand up with the big guys (i.e., Standard Oil), Plainview needs an oil bearing parcel of land he can call his own and he finds it one day courtesy of Paul Sunday (Dano) who tells him about the California town of New Boston where oil is so plentiful it is seeping to the surface. With his son, Plainview travels to New Boston where he confronts Paul’s twin brother Eli (also Dano), who is the minister of the charismatic Church of the Third Revelation. Plainview immediately recognizes Eli as a fellow con artist and the rest of the film involves their duel as each reaches for more power and what each chooses to surrender in their personal lives in order to gain that power. Grade: A

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